Blogs
The Bond between Dixie and Latin America
Next Post

Press {{ keys }} + D to make this page bookmarked.

Close
Photo: depositphotos.com

The Bond between Dixie and Latin America

10093

The Southern people have always had a certain kinship with the folks of Latin America.  This has shown itself in different ways at different times in Southern history.  Today, when there is so much animosity towards the United States because of Washington City’s ridiculous policies in that part of the world, we hope that by exploring that old kinship, warm ties between Latin America and Dixie can be renewed.

In Dixie’s early life, when she was secure as a feudal society, with the plantations playing the role of Western Europe’s fiefdoms, Southerners tended to dwell on the virtues of the Spanish and Portuguese knights who settled in what is now Latin America.  In the Iberian chivalry, they saw patterns worth emulating:  martial prowess, a proper veneration of womankind, fearlessness in dangerous situations, a disregard for one’s life for the sake of helping another, etc.  William Gilmore Simms of South Carolina (1806-70) illustrates this in his short story about Juan Ponce de Leon:

His [de Leon’s] narrative,—the boldness of his achievements, in Old and New Spain alike, have won for him no small share of that renown which, at one period, the Spanish cavaliers seemed to have divided among themselves to the exclusion of all other nations.

 . . .

Ponce de Leon, like Basco Nunez, was rather a better gentleman than the greater number of his neighbors.  He was neither so brutal nor so reckless as the rest, though quite as great a rogue; and, as a knight of romance, we find him fulfilling, to the end, all the dues and duties of the courts and codes of chivalry in its most elevated periods.  He was a cavalier after the best fashion, and did no discredit to his order.  He was brave and daring to a proverb—strong in person, fiery in spirit—true to his affections—earnest in his devotions—a lover of valorous deeds for valor’s sake, and fond of the sex, as became a distinguished disciple in the schools of that gallantry which made woman a goddess or a creature, according to the fancy and caprice of a most unprincipled order, whom a long period of warfare had made vicious and licentious to the last degree.

-‘Juan Ponce de Leon’, Tales of the South, Mary Ann Wimsatt ed., U of S. Car. Press, Columbia, S. Car., 1996, pgs. 32-3.

Southern praise from this era of the Spanish culture translated to Latin America may also be found in other sources.  Robert Lewis Dabney, in his lifewrit of one the South’s great heroes, General Stonewall Jackson, relates Gen Jackson’s experiences in Mexico shortly after the Mexican-American War had ceased in 1848:

After the quiet occupation of the city. Major Jackson became a part of the garrison, and resided there, in a state of pleasant military leisure, until the diplomatists had matured a peace, and the American army was withdrawn. This season of rest continued several months. He was one of those who were quartered in the national palace, . . . His duties were light, and easily despatched in the early forenoon; the climate was delicious; every object around him was full of grandeur or interest to his active mind; and the cultivated hospitality of the Castilians was alluring. It is well known how easily the luxurious society of a capital can forget national prejudices and humiliations, at the call of social enjoyment, and learn to consider the accomplished and courteous professional soldier as no longer an enemy. . . . Immediately after the occupation of the city, therefore, the places of amusement were re-opened, and frequented by a mingled crowd of Americans and Mexicans, the ladies walked the streets in crowds, and the young officers began to cultivate the acquaintance of the most distinguished families.

To qualify himself for enjoying this society more freely, Jackson, with a young comrade, addressed himself to the study of the Spanish language. His active mind was, besides, incapable of absolute repose, and he wished to improve his leisure by acquiring knowledge. He was ignorant of Latin, which is not taught at West Point, and the only grammar of Spanish he could find was written in that ancient tongue. Yet he bought it, and nothing daunted, set himself to learn the paradigms of the language from it; and by the help of reading and constant conversation with the people, became in a few months a good Spanish scholar. It was an amusing trait of his character that he appeared afterwards proud of this accomplishment, and fond of exercising it, so far as his modest nature could be said to make any manifestation of pride. He ever took pleasure in testifying to the cultivation, hospitality, and flowing courtesy of the Spanish gentry in Mexico; and, like Napier, among their kindred in their mother-country, acknowledged the fascination of their accomplished manners, and their noble and sonorous tongue, and the indescribable grace and beauty of their women. Having formed the acquaintance of some educated ecclesiastics of the Romish Church (probably of the order of Canons), he went, by their invitation, to reside with them. lie found their bachelor abode the perfection of luxurious comfort. Upon awaking in the morning, the servants brought him, before lie arose from bed, a light repast, consisting of a few diminutive spiced cakes, and a single cup of that delicious chocolate which is found only in Spanish houses. He then dressed, went out, and attended to the drill of his company. Later in the morning, when the sun began to display his power, he returned to a breakfast of coffee, fruits, and game. The greater part of the day was then spent in study or visiting; and it closed with a dinner in which Parisian art vied with the tropical fruits native to the climate in conferring enjoyment. One family especially among his Spanish acquaintances extended to him a hospitality for which he was always grateful, and it possessed the attraction of several charming daughters. He confessed, years after, that he found it advisable to discontinue his visits there; and when asked the reason, said with a blush, that he found the fascination of some of the female charms which he met there was likely to become too strong for his prudence, unless he escaped them in good time. He declared that if the people of the city had been equal to their beautiful climate, in integrity and character, Mexico would have been the most alluring home for him in the world.

-Life and Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, Blelock & Co., New York, 1866, pgs. 52-5, available online at https://archive.org/details/lifecampaignsofl01dabn/page/n10.

Later, after the great war between the revolutionary Yankee North and the tradition-minded South, when Southern society was grappling with how to adjust to the new world it found itself in, when her pre-Modern, agrarian, Christian worldview was being assaulted by scientism, capitalism, and the like, she began to view the Latin conquest of South America in a different light:  The dissonance between the Christian claims of the conquerors and their actions became the focus, along with some praise of the virtues of the native peoples.  Andrew Lytle of Tennessee (1902-95) is a good representative of this era.  His short story ‘Alchemy’ follows a group of Spanish conquistadors as they move across Peru.  He writes,

The next day it was the same.  Not once did that road bend or turn.  I thought of the Holy Empire over which our Catholic sovereign is lord, with its borders lying uneasy against the lands of the infidels, how all its kingdoms and principalities for lack of good roads lie as remote from one another as though divided by water.  And then hour by hour as I rode along, following this smooth and direct route, I asked myself what must these heathen be to outdo Christendom and bind their provinces so well together.  I looked towards the mountains where we were told they dwelt, and suddenly they seemed more present, more threatening than the famished sands.  . . .

Without warning we walked into the green fields of Poechos.  We held a mass of Thanksgiving and then took possession.  From here we overran Parina, Tangarala, Piura, and the Chira valley.  These valleys on the banks of the mountain rivers were heavily peopled.  There was food and water aplenty, but little gold.  Everywhere we sent foraging details we found the ground intelligently worked.  At regular distances water from the streams was turned into the fields under laws regulating its distribution.  Where it gave out or sank uselessly into the sand, areas of the desert had been excavated and sunken gardens built up in circular terraces.  The Indians added fish heads and the droppings of the bird called guano, so that where nature had left all barren or poor, herbs blossomed and had their season.

Tribute of food and personal service was laid upon the inhabitants, a measure that worked for the glory of God and brought the heathen to a knowledge of the true faith.  And were we Moriscos to make our own bread?  Soon the Governor began building a town in Piura.  He called it San Miguel in honor of that saint who had brought him such timely help in the fight with the islanders of Puna.

-Stories: Alchemy and Others, U of the South, Sewanee, Tenn., 1984, pgs. 112-3.

As it was long ago in those days, so it is today.  The modern Yankee American conquistadors, lusting after the oil, gold, etc. of Venezuela, are overlooking the true riches of agrarian wisdom of the local peoples for the false and fading riches of a cruel and exploitative empire.

Wendell Berry (born 1934), a contemporary Southern writer and farmer from Kentucky, continues the themes Mr Lytle dwelt upon in some his writings.  He is more strident in his denunciations of Spanish (and other forms of) imperialism and also more generous in his praise of the traditions of the native Latin American farmers.  After staying for a time in Peru to learn about the ancient farming practices there, he shared some of his reflections in his essay ‘An Agricultural Journey in Peru’.  A few of them are as follows:

It is in lingering over this contrast between the panoramic and the intimate that one begins to understand how farming and farmland have survived in the Andes for so long.  For those fields hold their soil on those slopes, first of all, by being little.  By being little they protect themselves against erosion, but their smallness also permits attention to be focused accurately and competently on details.  This is a way of farming that has obviously had to proceed by small considerations.  It has had to consider dirt by the handful.  Every seed and stem and stone has been subjected to the consideration of touch—picked up, weighted in the hand, and laid down.  The prime characteristic of the native, pre-Spanish agriculture was its concentration upon each individual plant, which accounts in large part for the great varietal diversity of the native crops.  The Spanish agriculture, by contrast, focused not on the individual plant but on the field.  It is the difference, still observable in the present practice of the farmers, between the hoe and the plow, between the potato field and the wheat field.  The ox-drawn plow of the Mediterranean, old as it is, is an innovation here.

 . . .

Steve talked of the difficulty of finding out about methods and reasons from these farmers.  They do as they have done, as their ancestors did before them.  The methods and reasons are assuredly complex—this is an agriculture of extraordinary craftsmanship and ecological intelligence—but they were worked out over a long time, long ago; learned so well, one might say, that they are forgotten.  It seems to me that this is probably the only kind of culture that works:  thought sufficiently complex, but submerged or embodied in traditional acts.  It is at least as unconscious as it is conscious—and so is available to all levels of intelligence.  Two people, one highly intelligent, the other unintelligent, will work fields on the same slope, and both will farm well, keeping the ways that keep the land.  You can look at a whole mountainside covered with these little farms and not see anything egregiously wasteful or stupid.  Not so with us.  With us, it grows harder and harder even for intelligent people to behave intelligently, and the unintelligent are condemned to a stupidity probably unknown in traditional cultures.

 . . .

That afternoon I spent a lot of time standing in lines to change money, make reservations, etc.  But I also walked around the city, looking at Inca remains and at churches.  At its best, Inca stone masonry is as excellent as the books and pictures lead one to suppose.  The workmanship could hardly be surpassed.  The Spanish churches are obscured, for me, by the violence that justified itself by them.  I cannot help seeing them as symbols of the conflict between the meaning of Christianity and the uses it has been put to.  Conquistador Christianity was, at least, a contradiction in terms.  The Cathedral is overwrought with silver and gold, gaudy as all the work of guilty conscience.  Of course, the Incas too were conquerors, geniuses of empire and domination, their religion as much a state religion and as serviceable to power as the Christianity of Pizarro.  Spanish gold was first Inca gold.  The Church of Santo Domingo is built on the foundation of the Inca Temple of the Sun.  Both, I think, were erected on the peasant culture (and agriculture) that preceded, supported, and suffered them.

-The Gift of Good Land, Counterpoint, Berkeley, Cal., 1981, pgs. 26, 27, 43-4.

‘Conquistador Christianity’ - This is still being practiced today in Latin America, not by Spain or Portugal but by the Yankee American Empire, led by the supposedly devout Evangelicals Pres Trump and VP Pence.  Venezuela, again, is the latest example.  However, this time there will be no cathedrals erected to expiate sins or soothe consciences:  When one’s country is the ‘chosen people’, there can be no guilt or sin to bother about.  Thus, the suffering and death of thousands of Venezuelans (whether from sanctions or from open battle) and the establishment of hosts of new oil wells, refineries, mineshafts, etc. will alike bring rejoicing to the Yankee American heart. 

But all this comes with a price.  Andrew Lytle stated it quite clearly at the end of ‘Alchemy’.  By spreading chaos and death, the conquerors enter into an union with evil spirits, even if they consider themselves to be on a mission given to them from God:

Atahualpa had scarcely been put away before night and a cold wind blew down from the peaks and settled over Caxamalca and the plain beyond.  We, the victors, drew together in this strange place, thousands of leagues from Christendom, on the backside of the world, and in awe viewed what our hands had wrought.  The dead and hurt lay heaped in the plaza.  The mighty host of the heathen lord was broken and scattered.  A kingdom of riches such as we had never imagined lay to our hands and we, a few poor companies of horse and foot, had done this thing without the loss of a single life.  Pizarro alone showed a wound, one in the hand, got in fending for his royal prisoner.

 . . . After a while de Soto’s voice slipped through the darkness.  “God’s miracle,” he whispered.

“Amen,” I murmured or thought I spoke.  Now I am unsure.  Now that de Soto, Pizarro, all who took part in that conquest are dead, either dead or scattered, or like me fit only to speak of the things they did when their strength was in them, now the word sounds across the long past like the sign of an alchemical charm.  That day a kind of alchemy was done.  So it seems to me, now that I can see better the end.  Most men are hastening to meet some disaster.  Yet whatever it was which on that day of triumph filled the eyes of those two captains, it seemed to them a thing of radiance, in white robes and most beautiful.  But beside them there was in attendance a companion clad in very different guise.  As they reached out their hands to clasp their desires, that other—the dark thing—stepped forward to receive them.

-‘Alchemy’, pgs. 163-4.

What shall we do then?  Southrons need to remember and practice their foreign policy heritage.  John C. Calhoun of South Carolina (1782-1850), one of Dixie’s greatest sons, spoke powerful words of warning about American meddling in Latin America.  He said these words in the Senate in Washington City about invading and occupying Mexico, but they are applicable to any Latin American country:

We have heard much of the reputation which our country has acquired by this war. I acknowledge it to the full amount, as far as the military is concerned. The army has done its duty nobly, and conferred high honours on the country, for which I sincerely thank them; but I apprehend that the reputation acquired does not go beyond this—and that, in other respects, we have lost rather than acquiring reputation by the war. It would seem certain, from all publications abroad, that the Government itself has not gained reputation in the eyes of the world for justice, moderation, or wisdom . . . . and in this view it appears that we have lost abroad, as much in civil and political reputation as we have acquired for our skill and valour in arms. . .

… The course of policy which we ought to pursue in regard to Mexico is one of the greatest problems in our foreign relations. Our true policy, in my opinion, is, not to weaken or humble her; on the contrary, it is our interest to see her strong, and respectable, and capable of sustaining all the relations that ought to exist between independent nations. I hold that there is a mysterious connection between the fate of this country and that of Mexico; so much so, that her independence and capability of sustaining herself are almost as essential to our prosperity, and the maintenance of our institutions, as they are to hers. Mexico is to us the forbidden fruit; the penalty of eating it would be to subject our institutions to political death . . . . When I said that there was a mysterious connection between the fate of our country and that of Mexico, I had reference to the great fact that we stood in such relation to here that we could make no disposition of Mexico, as a subject or conquered nation, that would not prove disastrous to us. . . . you have looked into history, and are too well acquainted with the fatal effects which large provincial possessions have ever had on the institutions of free states—to need any proof to satisfy you how hostile it would be to the institutions of this country, to hold Mexico as a subject province. There is not an example on record of any free state holding a province of the same extent and population, without disastrous consequences.

But before leaving this part of the subject, I must enter my solemn protest, as one of the representatives of a State of this Union, against pledging protection to any government established in Mexico under our countenance or encouragement. It would inevitably be overthrown as soon as our forces are withdrawn; and we would be compelled, in fulfilment of plighted faith, implied or expressed, to return and reinstate such Government in power, to be again overturned and again reinstated, until we should be compelled to take the government into our own hands, just as the English have been compelled to do again and again in Hindostan, under similar circumstances, until it has led to its entire conquest. . . . I must say I am at a loss to see how a free and independent republic can be established in Mexico under the protection and authority of its conquerors. I can readily understand how an aristocracy or a despotic government might be, but how a free republican government can be so established, under such circumstances, is to me incomprehensible. I had always supposed that such a government must be the spontaneous wish of the people; that it must emanate from the hearts of the people, and be supported by their devotion to it, without support from abroad. But it seems that these are antiquated notions—obsolete ideas—and that free popular governments may be made under the authority and protection of a conqueror.

We make a great mistake in supposing all people are capable of self-government. Acting under that impression, many are anxious to force free governments on all the peoples of this continent, and over the world, if they had the power. It has been lately urged in a very respectable quarter, that it is the mission of our country to spread civil and religious liberty over all the globe, and especially over this continent—even by force, if necessary. It is a sad delusion. None but a people advanced to a high state of moral and intellectual excellence are capable, in a civilised condition, of forming and maintaining free governments; and among those who are so advanced, very few indeed have had the good fortune to form constitutions capable of endurance. . . . It is harder to preserve than obtain liberty. After years of prosperity, the tenure by which it is held is too often forgotten; and, I fear, Senators, that such is the case with us. . . . . I have often been struck with the fact, that in the discussions of the great questions in which we are now engaged, relating to the origin and conduct of this war, the effect on free institutions and the liberty of the people have scarce been alluded to, although their bearing in that respect is so direct and disastrous . . . . But now, other topics occupy the attention of Congress and of the country—military glory, extension of the empire, and aggrandizement of the country. . . . We have had so many years of prosperity—passed through so many difficulties and dangers without the loss of liberty—that we begin to think we hold it by right divine from heaven itself. Under this impression, without thinking or reflecting, we plunge into war, contract heavy debts, increase vastly the patronage of the Executive, and indulge in every species of extravagance, without thinking that we expose our liberty to hazard. It is a great and fatal mistake. The day of retribution will come; and when it does, awful will be the reckoning, and heavy the responsibility somewhere.

-Quoted by Dr Clyde Wilson in https://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/review/john-c-calhoun-anti-imperialist/

Latin America should look to the Orthodox Church for her help.  She does not persecute or conquer but helps people overcome those things.  She does not impose a foreign culture on peoples but raises their native culture to its highest possible level of being.  A good example of this is seen in the life St Leander of Seville (commemorated 27 Feb.):

Our Holy Father Leander, Bishop of Seville and Apostle of Spain (600)

He was born to an aristocratic Roman family living in Spain: his father Severian was Duke of Cartagena. Saint Leander embraced monastic life as a young man in Seville, capital of the Visigoths, who had embraced Arianism and caused the Arian heresy to dominate throughout Spain. Leander became a leading figure in the struggle to restore his land to Orthodoxy, founding a school in Seville to promote the Orthodox faith. In 583 he travelled to Constantinople to seek the Emperor's support for the Spanish Orthodox; while there he met St Gregory the Great (the future Pope of Rome), with whom he formed a lifelong friendship. On his return to Spain, Leander was made Bishop of Seville.

One of the holy bishop's converts was Hermengild, one of the sons of the Arian king Leovigild. When Hermengild rose up against his father in the name of Orthodoxy, Leovigild launched a violent persecution of the Orthodox throughout his kingdom. (Leovigild had his son imprisoned, then executed on Pascha Day of 586.) By God's grace, at the very height of the persecution Leovigild fell mortally ill, repented, and embraced the true Faith; at his urging his son and successor Recared converted to Orthodoxy and convened the Third Council of Toledo in 589, at which he proclaimed that the Gothic and Suevic peoples were returning to the unity of the One Church. Saint Leander presided at the Council, and devoted the rest of his life to educating the (mostly) newly-Orthodox people of Spain in the Faith. It was he who established the early form of the Mozarabic Liturgy.  . . .

-John Brady, http://www.abbamoses.com/months/february.html

Latin America and the South have many reasons to be friendly towards one another.  We have touched on just a few here.  But ultimately it is there, in the Orthodox Church, where both will find their deepest bond with one another, where all nations become most truly themselves, where all the tears and bitterness of the past are swallowed up in the experience of a foretaste of the coming blessedness of the Kingdom of Christ today.

Author: Walt Garlington